Catherine de Zegher

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(Marie-)Catherine de Zegher (born Groningen,[1] April 14, 1955[2]) is an international curator, and a modern and contemporary art critic and art historian.[3] She has a degree in History of Art and Archaeology from the University of Ghent.[4] De Zegher was the Director of the Ghent Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent (Belgium), but got suspended[5][6][7] and later fired due to doubts regarding the authenticity regarding the Toporovski collection.[8][9][10] Since 2014 De Zegher is a member of the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts.[11] She was the Artistic Director of all our relations, the 18th Biennale of Sydney, Australia (2012) and of More Light/Bolshe Seta, the 5th Moscow Biennale, Russia (2013).[12][13][14][15] She curated the Australian Pavilion (Simryn Gill: Here art grows on trees) at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013 and the Belgian Pavilion (Thierry De Cordier) at the 47th Venice Biennale in 1997. In 2017 she received the Oscarla award for her role in the art world.[16] Her art projects often promote the feminine principle.[17]

Exhibitions and publications[edit]

Catherine de Zegher's most recent book is an anthology of collected essays on contemporary women artists written over 15 years: Women's Work Is Never Done.[18] In 2012, de Zegher curated and edited All our relations (18th Biennale of Sydney).[19][20] De Zegher wrote On Line. Drawing Through the Twentieth Century (1910-2010) as a curator of an exhibition by that name[21] at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 2010 she has curated the exhibition Alma Matrix: Bracha Ettinger and Ria Verhaeghe[22] in juxtaposition with Eva Hesse. Studioworks (2010) at the Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona.

De Zegher was the Director of Exhibitions and Publications at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto in 2007-09 and the Executive Director and Chief Curator of The Drawing Center in New York in 1999-2006 and Editor of its Drawing Papers. However a 2006 planned art exhibition on Drawing from the American-Vietnam war became controversial, ultimately leading to de Zegher her resignation.[23] In a press statement it was stated that her resignation was due to her differences in vision with the Center's president, George Negroponte, with De Zegher focusing on exhibitions and Mr. Negroponte on building the center's artist services and on creating studio work space, a well as objections to how much money Ms. de Zegher spent on shows at the Drawing Center.[24] This is, however disputed and her resignation was more likely due to the museum not supporting de Zegher in her defence of the critical independence of art.[23]

She was previously co-founder and Director of the Kanaal Art Foundation (Kortrijk, Belgium, 1988-1998) and in 1992 co-curated the large-scale exhibition America. Bride of the Sun: 500 years Latin-America and the Low Countries at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp.[25]

In 1996 de Zegher curated Inside the Visible: An Elliptical Traverse of Twentieth-Century Art in, of, and from the Feminine at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.[26] The exhibition was accompanied by a book (MIT Press).[27] Her exhibitions accompanied by books and catalogues include: Mona Hatoum: Beyond the Violence Vortex into the Beauty Vortex (2011); Bracha L. Ettinger: Art as Compassion (2011), co-edited with Griselda Pollock;[28] Cristina Iglesias: Deep Fountain (2008); Julie Mehretu: Drawings (2007);[29] Freeing the Line (2007);[30] Eva Hesse Drawing (2006);[31] Joelle Tuerlinckx: Drawing Inventory (2006); 3 x Abstraction: New Methods of Drawing by Hilma af Klint, Emma Kunz, and Agnes Martin (2005);[32] Richard Tuttle: It’s a Room for 3 People (2005); "Ocean Flowers: Impressions from Nature" (2004);Giuseppe Penone: The Imprint of Drawing (2004); The Stage of Drawing: Gesture and Act. Selected from the Tate Collection (2003); Anna Maria Maiolino: A Life Line/Vida Afora (2002);[33] Untitled Passages by Henri Michaux (2000); The Prinzhorn Collection: Traces upon the Wunderblock (2000),[34] and Martha Rosler: Positions in the Life World, 1998. She co-edited with Carol Armstrong Women Artists at the Millennium (MIT Press).[35]

Controversy with the Toporovski collection[edit]

In Fall 2017 the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent re-installed its permanent collection and included works by contemporary artists Luc Tuymans, Ria Verhaeghe and Patrick Van Caeckenbergh. The new installation also included a few Russian avantgarde works from the Dieleghem Foundation (Toporovski collection, owned by Igor Toporovski). In 2018, however, the Toporovski collection was claimed to be doubtful concerning their authenticity by a group of art dealers and some scholars in The Art Newspaper and De Standaard.[36][37] Due to the problems surrounding the collection, the museum board ordered an audit on the event and de Zegher was suspended pending this process.[38][39][40] Later, several Flemish museum directors critiqued the handling of de Zegher and the MSK.[41][42] De Zegher held fast to her claim that they did all the necessary art historical research, but could not produce evidence to this end.[41][43] A former exhibition in France featuring work from the Toporovski's was questioned as well, however in that case the court had ruled the paintings to be real.[44] The Flemish Parlement debated in Februari 2018 how to limit the negative effects of this controversy for other Belgian musea.[45][46] Following these events, several of the employees of the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent formally (anonymously) denounced de Zegher in a letter sent to city officials in late 2018. In the letter, the museum team officially withdrew their confidence in the former director, referring a.o. to her self-righteous attitude while in charge of the museum and her lack of people management skills. The team expressed their unwillingness to collaborate with de Zegher any further, in case she would be allowed to return to the museum.[1]

De Zegher disputes any wrongdoing.[47][48] She and the City of Ghent closed the exhibition a month into the controversy and terminated the contract with the owner so that the works could be returned. The latter stated that an investigation would be conducted to verify the authenticity of the works.[49] Currently the matter is in the hands of an investigating judge.[50] Toporovski claimed that lab research already showed that several of the works are indeed from the proclaimed area and are thus real, however no tangible evidence to this effect has so far been made public.[51][52][53]

After 7 months of her suspension, 63 artists, among museum directors and intellectuals published a letter in support of Catherine de Zegher. Among those to have signed the letter include artists Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Luis Camnitzer, Cristina Iglesias, Simryn Gill, Mona Hatoum, Giuseppe Penone, Luc Tuymans, and Cecilia Vicuña; art historian Benjamin H. D. Buchloh; Catherine David, deputy director of the Centre Pompidou in Paris; Bartomeu Mari, director of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul; and Ann Gallagher, director of Tate Modern’s British Art collections.[54] The letter reads:

"We are appalled to see how one of the preeminent women curators of her generation internationally, a wholly professional and widely acclaimed museum director, has been made the plaything of unscrupulous media and of international speculation in the art of the Russian avantgarde, resulting in a severe media process destroying her work and reputation. Through this letter, we affirm our full support for Catherine de Zegher as museum director and as curator. We challenge the local and national authorities concerned on the important issue of having, keeping, protecting and supporting visionary museum directors in their country, remaining independent in their judgement from the pressure media exert and the correlated hype and sensation, and above all from the growing influence of a certain art market linked with finance and power. We ask them to seriously pay attention to the role art and museums play in our cities, regions and in the society at large, the great principles they represent, and the necessity of having inspirational museum directors and curators to lead the way." [55]

On October 17, 2018 de Zegher organised a press conference during which she stated that several of the works in the show had since been tested in laboratories and were proven to contain materials dating from the period to which they were attributed. She compared her own position to that of artists persecuted in Russian pogroms, and to herserf being an Amazon fighting for art. She also repeated her earlier claim that art-historical research had been undertaken, however she did not present any evidence to this effect, claiming rather that this evidence would be published in a book in 2019.[56] During the entire period of the controversy, de Zegher worked closely with reputation manager Ine Mariën (also present at the final press conference). It has been noted that Ine Mariën herself has come under fire for her role in the financial misanagement of the Ghent Floralies in 2016, during which she charged 340.000 euros of fees for a 'repositioning' exercise originally budgeted at 25.000 euros.[57]

In October 2018 Toporovski announced that several works were tested for their authenticity and proven to be real. He referred to the publication of a book regarding the controversy.[52][58][51][59]

On November 5 the International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art (CiMAM) issued a statement in support of Catherine de Zegher. The full statement reads:

“In its capacity as the international association for Museums and Collections of Modern and Contemporary art, and as an affiliate of ICOM, CIMAM wishes to register its deep concern at the treatment of Catherine de Zegher in her capacity as Director of the Museum of Fine Arts (MSK) in Ghent. Since January 2018, as part of investigations into the authenticity of a group of Russian modernist works, Ms de Zegher has been subject to a series of accusations that have not been dismissed nor brought to appropriate conclusion. This has caused considerable damage to her reputation as a museum professional and curator of the highest standing internationally. In expressing its support for Ms de Zegher CIMAM also wishes to defend the principles of integrity and respect for museum professionals globally at a time when museums and their directors are being confronted with pressures from the art market, undue interference from governing bodies, and campaigns based on misinformation[60]

Litigation and indefinite suspension[edit]

Late January 2019 the city of Ghent formally lodged a complaint against de Zegher and the Dieleghem Foundation after strong evidence came to light suggesting documents pertaining to the loan - supposedly dating to 2017 and confiscated by the public prosecutor in early 2018 - had in fact been forged. In reply, de Zegher attempted to sue the alderman of culture for libel, but the plea appeared to be ungrounded.[61][62][7][5][8]

On February 22, 2019 de Zegher was suspended indefinitely as director, based on the findings of the audit that had started in 2018.[63][10] She will not return to the Museum of Fine Arts, but remains an employee of the Department of Culture.[63] The city also announced that de Zegher remains subject to ongoign disciplinary proceedings, pending a possible definite dismissal.[64]

In december 2019 the Belgian newspaper De Standaard reported that Igor Toporovski was arrested and kept in provisional detention at the prison of Ghent due to the potential fraud in regard with the Toporovski collection,[65] however they were released with specific conditions awaiting their trial.[66]

Selected curatorial projects[edit]

2017. From Bosch to Tuymans, A Vivid Narrative, reinstallation MSK Gent; Geta Bratescu: A Studio of One’s Own, MSK Gent (original concept by Camden Arts Center, London); Manufactories of caring space-time (Creative Europe Project), MSK Gent / FRAC Lorraine, Metz / Foundation Antoni Tapies; Parastou Forouhar, Written Room, artwork created in MSK Gent; EyeWitness: Francisco Goya & Farideh Lashai Museum of Fine Arts (MSK), Gent, Belgium / Prado Museum, Madrid / British Museum, London

2016. Selma & Sofiane Ouissi, Creative Europe Project The Minor Gesture in collaboration with Erin Manning and Nikolaus Gansterer, Museum of Fine Arts (MSK), Gent / FRAC Lorraine, Metz / Fundacio Antoni Tapies, Barcelona; Simryn Gill, The hemi(cycle) of leaves and paper, Tekenkabinet; Gerda Steiner & Jorg Lenzlinger, Metafloristik Museum of Fine Arts (MSK), Gent, Belgium;

2015. Raaklijnen / Tangents / Tangentes (Pieter Vermeersch, Edith Dekyndt, Maria Laet, Monika Grzymala, Gosia Wlodarczak, Tim Knowles, John Wolseley, Aslan Gaisumov, Sarah Sze) Museum of Fine Arts (MSK), Tekenkabinet, Gent, Belgium; Micro-art group Gorod Ustinov, Creative Europe Project, Micromuseum Gent Museum of Fine Arts (MSK), Gent / Frac Lorraine, Metz / Fundacio Antoni Tapies, Barcelona; Eija-Liisa Ahtila, On foreign subjects, nature of miracles and possibilities of perception, Oi Futuro, Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte; Julia Margaret Cameron (in collaboration with the V&A) Museum of Fine Arts (MSK), Gent, Belgium

2014. Love Letters in War and Peace/Mona Hatoum: Close Quarters (November–February 2015); Katrien Vermeire, Kreislauf (single artwork presented in 2014); Isabel & Alfredo Aquilizan, Lade (Project: Another Country) (single artwork created February–May 2014) Museum of Fine Arts (MSK), Gent, Belgium

2013. the Australian Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale.

2013. 5th Moscow Biennale: More Light/Bolshe Sveta

2012. 18th Biennale of Sydney: all our relations.

2010. On Line. Drawing Through the Twentieth Century, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

2010. Alma Matrix: Shared Traces/Trazos en Comun. Bracha Ettinger and Ria Verhaeghe (juxtaposed with Eva Hesse: Studioworks). Fundacion Antoni Tàpies Foundation, Barcelona.

2006. Eva Hesse Drawing. The Menil Collection, Houston; The Drawing Center, New York; LAMoCA, Los Angeles; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (The Association of Art Museum Curators AAMC Award for Excellence[67]).

2006. Freeing the Line: Gego, Monika Grzymala, Eva Hesse, Karel Malich, Julie Mehretu, Ranjani Shettar, Joelle Tuerlinckx, Richard Tuttle. Marian Goodman Gallery, NY.

2006. Joelle Tuerlinckx's Drawing Inventory. The Drawing Center, NY.

2005. Persistent Vestiges: Drawing from the American Vietnam War. The Drawing Center, New York.

2005. 3 x Abstraction: New Methods of Drawing by Hilma af Klint, Emma Kunz, and Agnes Martin (Best Show AICA Award 2005), The Drawing Center, New York; Santa Monica Museum, Los Angeles; Kilmainham Museum, Dublin, Ireland.

2005. Richard Tuttle: It's a Room for 3 People, The Drawing Center, New York; The Aspen Art Museum, Aspen, Colorado.

2003-2004. "Ocean Flowers: Impressions from Nature". The Drawing Center, New YorkGiuseppe Penone: The Imprint of Drawing. The Drawing Center, New York; 2004. Milton Keynes Gallery, United Kingdom.

2003. The Stage of Drawing: Gesture and Act. Selected from the Tate Collection The Drawing Center, New York, 2003. Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia; Tate Liverpool, Liverpool, United Kingdom ; Tate Britain, London, United Kingdom.

2002. Anna Maria Maiolino: A Life Line/Vida Afora. The Drawing Center, New York.

2001. Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger: Eurydice Series. The Drawing Center, New York.

2001. Between Street and Mirror: The Drawings of James Ensor. The Drawing Center, New York.

2000. Untitled Passages by Henri Michaux, 2000. The Drawing Center, New York.

2000. The Prinzhorn Collection: Traces Upon the Wunderblock (Best Show AICA Award, 2000-2001). The Drawing Center, New York.

1998. Martha Rosler: Positions in the Life World. Retrospective exhibition co-curated by Elizabeth Macgregor and Sabine Breitwieser and organized by Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, UK, and the Generali Foundation, Vienna, and touring to Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona; Institut d'Art Contemporain, Villeurbanne/Rhône-Alpes; The Generali Foundation, Vienna; Nederlands Foto Instituut, Rotterdam; The New Museum, New York; International Center of Photography, New York.

1997. Thierry de Cordier. Belgian Pavilion, XLVII Biennial of Venice.

1997. Mona Hatoum, Ann Veronica Janssens, Gabriel Orozco. Galerie Micheline Szwajcer, Antwerp.

1996-1997. Inside the Visible. An Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art in, of, and from the Feminine. Institute of Contemporary Art ICA Boston; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC; Whitechapel Gallery, London; Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth.

1994. Bracha L. Ettinger: Oeuvres autistes. Kanaal Art Foundation. Nancy Spero, Kanaal Art Foundation.

1993. Gabriel Orozco: In Broel-and Brewerytower Broel-towers and Brewery-tower, Kanaal Art Foundation

1990-1992. America, Bride of the Sun. 500 Years/Latin America and the Low Countries Major historical exhibition, including the work of 23 contemporary South-American artists Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp 2/1/92-5/31/92

1992. Antoni Muntadas: C.E.E. Project Kanaal Production 1991-1992 in each European Community member state, starting with: The Netherlands: Witte de With, Rotterdam 2/22/92-12/31/92; Spain: Federacion Espagnola de Municipios y Provincios, ‘Edge’ 1992; Madrid 4/30-92-5/31/92; Portugal: Fundaçao Serralves, Porto 4/30/92-12/31/92; Great Britain: Broadgate, ‘Edge’ 1992, London 5/13/92-6/15/92; Germany: Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste, Frankfurt 12/1/92-12/21/92; Greece: Institut Français de Thessalonique, Thessalonique 10/24/97; David Lamelas: When the Sky Low and Heavy Royal Museum for Fine Arts, Antwerp; Ilya Kabakov & Ulo Sooster: Illustration as a Way to Survive Royal Academy for Fine Arts, Kortrijk; Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, U.K.; Centre for Contemporary Art, Glasgow

1991. Waltercio Caldas: Drawings and Sculptures and James Casebere & Tony Oursler: Station Project Kanaal Art Foundation, Kortrijk

1989. Cildo Meireles & Tunga: Through /Lezarts; Tadashi Kawamata: Beguinage Project Kanaal Art Foundation, Kortrijk; Lili Dujourie: Ibant oscuri sola sub nocte per umbra Bonner Kunstverein, Bonn; Le Magasin, Grenoble, France; Museum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo; Musée d'Art Moderne, Paris


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  28. ^ Catherine de Zegher and Griselda Pollock (eds), Art as Compassion. Bracha L. Ettinger. Ghent: MER. Paper Kunsthalle & Brussels: ASA Publishers, 2011. ISBN 978-94-6117-008-8
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See also[edit]